DETROIT — Atlanta came to town as the team with the best record in baseball because it did two things better than anyone else.
“They hit it over the fence and they pitch real good,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Then this anticipated series began, and, wait, which team was he talking about?
The Tigers drubbed the league-leading Atlanta Braves at their own game — again — in a 7-4 victory Saturday at Comerica Park.
Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta each hit two-run homers, Rick Porcello coolly recovered from the worst start of his career, and closer Jose Valverde looked — wait for this — dominant in another perfect ninth inning.
In other words, after what Leyland called a “floundering” opening month, the sun-drenched sellout crowd of 42,881 finally saw the kind of team everyone expected.
At least until the ninth, when the new closer (Valverde) looked nothing like the old one (Valverde).
Gone were the goggles, about 18 pounds, and on Saturday, the tension. In its place were a rediscovered command and velocity. Valverde, who was out of baseball when the Tigers signed him out of desperation last month, closed the game with back-to-back swinging strikeouts — the final pitch a 95-mph fastball to Juan Francisco.
It was the second straight save for Valverde. The 35-year-old retired the Royals in order Wednesday in his first game back with Detroit.
“We don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Leyland said, “but certainly we’d like him to be the guy. ... If he’s right, he’s good. He’s done it before and he’s not afraid, and those are two big assets. He’s got a track record. Yeah, I feel comfortable with him. I just don’t want to start getting crazy and start making silly statements.”
Outfielder Torii Hunter said, “I’m pretty sure he’s going to come back and show you guys he can do it.”
“With a vengeance,” he added.
Valverde, though, was only the final part of Detroit’s revival.
A night after bruising league ERA leader Paul Maholm in a 10-0 whitewashing, the previously slumping Tigers (12-10) were similarly unkind to right-hander Kris Medlen — owner of the lowest ERA in baseball (1.20) since last year’s All-Star game. They rocked Medlen (1-3) for five runs on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings, including a two-run drive into the left-field stands by Infante that pushed the Tigers ahead 5-3 in the fourth inning.
“That’s huge for us,” Leyland said of the two homers. “That’s one thing we hadn’t done recently — hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Porcello, meanwhile, made sure a Braves lineup that leads the majors with 36 homers stayed safely in the park with an effort he needed more than he would admit.
The 24-year-old had to win a spot in the rotation in spring training and had done little to assure his place. In his last start, Porcello (1-2) got only two outs and allowed nine runs in a 10-0 loss to the Angels.
The Tigers’ resident ground-ball pitcher responded adeptly, holding the Braves to three runs on five hits over 6 1/3 innings. The three runs and all but one of the hits came in the third inning.
“The Anaheim game, I just had to wash it away in my mind,” Porcello said.
“I had some unfortunate things happen. I still felt like my stuff was good. But today, I finally got some better results.”
Asked if his sharp curveball was the result of the warming temperature, he laughed.
“I just think I stayed in the game long enough to get a feel for it today,” Porcello said.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.